Thursday, July 27, 2017

See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Grove Atlantic: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 324 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802126597

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a recommended retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden during a limited time span.

On the morning of August 4, 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally murdered in their home located in Fall River, Massachusetts. This historical fiction novel retells that story through four different characters: Lizzie Borden; Bridget, the housemaid; Emma Borden, the older sister; and Benjamin, an acquaintance of the sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse. Schmidt tells a story that highlights what the respectable Borden household was really like. Andrew was abusive and had an explosive temper. Abby, Andrew's second wife and stepmother to the girls, was a needy, spiteful woman. Emma wants to escape from the household and live an artistic life. Lizzie is portrayed as child-like, unreliable, clinging, angry, and manipulative. Bridget sees all and wants to leave but Abby has recently taken her tin with all her savings inside it. Benjamin is a violent thug and unpredictable.

The novel attempts to bring to life these characters and the events surrounding the murders. Lizzie is depicted as so child-like and, well, odd, that you will wonder if she was mentally unstable. You may also be wondering this about Andrew and Abby. Bridget is trapped in a household she wants to leave. The same could be said of Emma. She wants out but is stopped at every attempt.
The murders are more just discovering the bodies and the reactions to the state they were in rather than extended gruesome descriptions.

The writing is very good and Schmidt succeeds in creating a tension-filled atmosphere in the novel making it a psychological historical thriller. Each character has an individual voice and you will know who is talking in the chapter. I will have to admit that I didn't necessarily find this a compelling or insightful novel. Schmidt has chosen in this account to focus on what happened the day before and the day of the murders rather than Lizzie's subsequent arrest, trial, and acquittal. It takes the focus of See What I Have Done and places it on the actual dysfunctional family dynamics. It might have helped my review if Schmidt had provided an epilogue stating what was based on fact and any liberties she took for fiction. I knew what I imagine was an average amount about the historical case and actually had to look up the information. She does provide a timeline of historical events at the end of the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.

No comments: